Friday, December 13, 2019

Film Review: Little Women (A)

Beth, Jo, Meg and Amy
Most of us are already familiar with the Louisa May Alcott 19th century bestseller, Little Women novel. A book that has been embraced by little girls, women, boys and men for nearly 150 years, and in its 8th theatrical adaptation by director Greta Gerwig, this beloved story remained true to its roots, but was given a fresh injection of 21st century feminism that today's audience will relate to and embrace its cultural relevance. I have not read the book, but I have seen the 1994 Winona Ryder version, and I thought it was sweet. But Gerwig's version is absolutely gorgeous, funny, spicy, and sad, but it ends with the most fulfilling cinematic scene that these dark days welcome.

Writing is Jo's life and source of independence
Of the four March sisters, in order of age, there's Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh). All have different personalities and temperaments, but have a strong love for each other that is heartwarming. Little Women has a non-linear narrative style spanning a seven year time frame that has a steady flow to it once you make note of the length of the girl's hair (hint). In this version, we see how all four girls are on their own journey to what they believe will lead to their personal happiness. In this version, Jo is especially spunky in her desire to be a fully independent woman who earns her own money from writing, without the support of a man, so that she can take care of her family. Her Aunt March (Meryl Streep) is wealthy and tried to take Jo under her wing to marry well, but she soon deems Jo a lost cause and focuses on nurturing Amy's talent for painting and presenting her to society so that she can marry a rich man.

Laura Dern as Marmee March has a modernized touch of a 19th century homemaker whose husband, played by Bob Odenkirk, is at war fighting for the Union. So Marmee is both mom and dad, as well as a community leader in that she looks out for the poor and war torn families, even at the risk of the limited comforts and food for her own family. The most pronounced enhancement of Gerwig's Little Women is that all the girls, save for poor Beth, have moments of where they clearly state their future goals in life. Jo doesn't want to get marry, she just wants to write and earn money; Meg yearns to get married, and have kids and be a housewife; and Amy wants to travel to Europe, become a famous painter and marry rich, in that order! Beth dies young due to complications from Scarlet fever, but even she seems content with accepting that she's going to die, but not before she asks Jo to write for her. And this dying wish energizes Jo to write with conviction, For Beth.

Laurie and Amy
Timothée Chalamet as Theodore 'Laurie' Laurence, is the secret weapon for Little Women. His Laurie, under Gerwig's smart direction, is used in this film much more than any other Laurie, and he has a connection with each sister, and key private scenes with each sister, it's as if he's their brother and counselor who offers supportive words of wisdom from a boy's perspective to keep them on track of what is more ideal for them. He's flawed, he's irresponsible, a dreamer, a wanderer, and could be curt with the sisters, but he's a good young man who needs a strong woman in his life. Chalamet easily conveys the complex nature of Laurie magnificently. Laurie is told he's beautiful, twice by Amy and Jo, and his love at first sight affections for Jo is cute and obsessively sweet. She only sees him as a cute neighbor boy who is fun to do things with. But he's also a man who could get in her way of maintaining her fierce independence if she were to allow herself to love him back. However, Amy has been smitten with him since she first saw him as a child, and seven years later, after Jo doesn't accept his marriage proposal, the chance encounter of meeting Laurie in Europe and her looking at him with all her love ignites their inevitable smart union. 

I enjoyed Little Women much more than I did with Gerwig's Lady Bird. Her writing and direction on Little Women is much stronger and gives us a glimpse into her future as her becoming an Oscar winning director one day. Along with the beautiful costume designs by Jacqueline Durran; the set decoration by Claire Kaufman; cinematography of Yorick Le Saux; and the timely, lovely music by Alexandre Desplat, this is an Oscar caliber film that is stand out with prestige quality in all these categories. So that's why it is all the more shocking that in this past week as the Golden Globes only gave Little Women two nominations, and the Screen Actors Guild totally shut it out. I won't dwell on the reasons why, but moving forward, Sony will need to have multiple screenings in the coming days, and have screeners sent to each Oscar voter so that Little Women has a chance to be nominated in the previously mentioned artisan groups, but also Best Picture, Best Actress (Ronan), Supporting Actress (Pugh), Supporting Actor (Chalamet), Adapted Screenplay (Gerwig), and Best Director (Gerwig).

In this unusually strong year of so many excellent films, I fear that no female director will make the cut for Best Director, and that just kicks me in the gut. Therefore, I strongly feel that if there is a huge FYC campaign for Adapted Screenplay, this is where Gerwig could become an Oscar winner. It'll be a spectacular consolation prize from the industry in shutting out Greta, and other women directors, from the Best Director line up.

Little Women opens on December 25th, Christmas Day, appropriately. But in this shortened Oscar season, it opened too late (and without the promotional benefit of a film festival screening), I'm hopeful that Little Women can garner several high profile Oscar nominations, and take home all or at least one Oscar, so that Gerwig & Co. won't go home empty handed like they did in 2018 after six nominations for Lady Bird. The time has come, especially this year, to celebrate a woman filmmaker and writer for the brilliant work women have done this year!

Grade: A

Garrel, Ronan, Gerwig, Pugh and Chalamet at Paris Premiere 12 December

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